Don’t Worry, Be Hampi

Hamp has been a smorgasbord of ancient temples nestled among hills, boulders and beautiful scenery. One could spend a month here and not see everything, but I gave it my best shot in the short time I was here.

For information on Hampi, read here.

I ate breakfasts at the rooftop restaurant, enjoying the morning chanting from the next door temple. I watched the mahouts (elephant trainers) wash the temple elephant in the river and enjoyed the peaceful laid back morning there.

I took a bicycle tour to visit over a dozen monuments, and then walked with a new friend to the Vittal temple, finding our way despite lack of direction, to the stone chariot and the temple.

And in between touristy things, just took some time to relax and enjoy the atmosphere here. I found myself wishing that I had spent a week here vs Goa, but so it goes. I have definitely enjoyed my time here.

And now I have another carrot in front of me: in November, I will return to Rishikesh for a month to do yoga teacher training. In the meantime I’ll travel around the south, and maybe a bit in the north on my way back there. Back to enjoying the journey.

Cheeky monkey. He came into the restaurant and took my (finished) glass to get what he could from it before the owners chased him away.

Bloggers Recognition Award

I recently received a nomination for this award by Sudhir Chauhan, a great travel writer I encountered here on WordPress. His writing and photographs bring various places in India into awareness in a new and beautiful way. His site, wildtravellersblog, is definitely worth checking out.

Buddhist teachings remind me that praise and blame are things which shift on a regular basis. The award comes today, and tomorrow someone writes a scathing comment about a post. So while remembering its transient and impersonal nature, I’ll still accept the praise of the nomination with gratitude. I’m happy that this blog is providing enjoyment to others, at least for now. 

With freedom and awards comes responsibility, and this one comes with rules involved:

First, thank the person who nominated you and post a link to their blog. Happily done.

Next, include a few lines on how your own blog started…

I had been working way too many long hours in an emergency room, and had been planning a trip to India as a light at the end of a long tunnel. The trip morphed into something much larger, like a new life vector. I left my job, and started visiting Buddhist monasteries and other places on the way to India. Since I’m traveling solo, the blog was a way to share my experiences with family and friends. Much to my surprise, people I didn’t know have appreciated the journey as well.  

Metta is a Buddhist word which loosely translates as loving friendliness, or goodwill. My goal is to spread that as I go along this journey. A tsunami of metta, spreading along the world.

Next rule: offer two pieces of advice to other bloggers. I’ll offer two things I’ve learned.

Initially, I thought I’d keep this as a light and happy blog sharing travel pictures. But when I started sharing the emotions I experienced as I traveled, I found that people were still reading, and actually more interested. And I was free to express what arose instead of painting a flat yet happy picture. So I’m not as afraid now to be upfront like I was when I started.

The more blogs I read, the wider my perspective and the more I learn. It’s been a very cooperative learning process, and I’m very grateful to the other blogs out there that I’ve learned from. And why I like the idea of this award, as it’s a way of sharing great blogs with others. No blog is an island.

The next rule is to pay it forward by nominating a few blogs that inspire you. There are many great ones out there, but here are a few blogs that come to mind, and in turn I nominate for this award:

And finally, write a post to accept your nomination, with the above rules included. Should you choose to accept it, that is.

Be well, everyone!

Goan nowhere?

I’ve been in Northern Goa for several days now, and am in a quandary of sorts.

Visiting various places for a few days at a time, plus extended travel schedules, has worn this body and mind out a bit.

So visiting the beaches of Goa sounds like the perfect place to relax, right? It’s a town along the coast with old Portuguese architecture, a laid back feel, and miles of beaches. The perfect place to take a break.

Not so much.

While walking along the beach has been soothing, and having nowhere specific to go has been restful, it’s certainly not what I expected. 

Goa has the reputation in India as being a place to party, and now I understand why. As a single older traveler, I am invisible to those who are here to get high, drunk, or engage in other such activities. Which is fine, since I do not. But in my two months of being a solo traveler, I have never felt as alone as I have here in the crowds of vacationers.

And the trance/club/”uncha-uncha” music that is still playing after 11 at night is not exactly restful.

So I find myself still a bit worn out, and losing momentum. I want to head further south, but can’t get excited for any particular place. Yet staying here is not as appealing as I thought it might be.

So for those who haven’t been here, I’ll share some of the more beautiful aspects of the town through pictures. There have been some beautiful places, and I don’t mean to whinge about a lovely vacation spot. But perhaps my followers in India or those that have been here may understand.

I’ll welcome suggestions of somewhere to go to rejuvenate energy for the trip.

Preferably without trance music.

Arambol beach
Returning the boat
It takes a village: pulling in the catch of the day

Caves and Castles: Aurangabad

My plan for visiting Aurangabad was the Ajanta and Ellora caves, and I happened upon a few extras while there.

The Ajanta Caves were built around the 2nd century BC to the 6th century AD, and are a mix of monastic viharas and meditation halls. The 28 caves are set in a horseshoe shaped cliff with a peaceful meandering river below. I spent several hours here, admiring the work and the energy of monastics from a long time ago.

The caves from a distance
Pillar and fresco. It’s all a bit dark, unfortunately. No flash allowed.
Cave facade, and a girl that I’m pretty sure is giving me the stinkface!-)

Daulatabad Fort was part of a packaged bus deal. It was a great addition, as the place was peaceful and beautiful. It could have taken a day on its own. Built in the 12th century, it must have appeared as an impressive fortress that would last forever. Now, its walls are crumbling, and nature is taking it back, only adding to its beauty.

Next up were the Ellora caves. These were built later on, in 600 to 1000AD. There are 34 caves in all, including Buddhist, Hindu and Jain. Sadly, as the bus tour was a bit rushed, I only saw about half of them. I saw the Buddhist monasteries, and a few Hindu, including the impressive Kailash temple. But as advice to other travelers, Ellora is close to Aurangabad: hire a rickshaw and stay for as long as you want.

Waterfall at the Buddhist caves
Three-storied Buddhist monastery
Kailash Temple

We also stopped at the Bibi ka Maqbara, also known as the “Mini Taj Mahal”. It was built by the son of Mughal ruler Aurangzeb, Azam Khan, as a mausoleum for his mother. Azam’s plan was to make it completely out of marble and have it look like the Taj in Agra. Aurangzeb put the kabosh on that though. Guess he wasn’t quite as enamoured with his wife as Shah Jahan was to his. The building does resemble the Taj Mahal, but on a much smaller scale.

My trip to and from Aurangabad was equally as interesting as the tourist attractions were. The train to and from Mumbai does not do tourist seats, so because I didn’t buy a ticket ahead of time, I ended up in a second class car. It was everything I imagined riding in the non-AC section of India’s trains would be, except it wasn’t so crowded that anyone had to ride on top of the train. There was one guy that went up on the luggage rack though.

The ride back was even more crowded. As the train pulled into the station, what seemed like five hundred people all tried to get into a single train doorway, pushing and shoving their way in. By the time I got to my seat, a family had camped on it, and I ended up across the aisle. Better than the floor, which is where about a dozen people sat. Every few minutes a vendor with various, food, chai, water, or trinkets would step through all the people in the aisles, yelling out what he was selling, to make his way through the car. It was crowded and hectic, yet everyone seemed to take it all in stride. Eventually, I could feel myself doing the same and just enjoying the ride.

If it’s Tuesday, it must be Mumbai

I’ve had a bit of a crazy travel schedule the last few days. On Monday morning I took a bus from Udaipur to Ahmedabad (pronounced more like “Ahmdavad”), stopped there for a few hours, then traveled onward overnight by train to Mumbai. 

The bus itself was quite nice, and there was no one sitting next to me. On my descent from the bus, the craziness started. I got a rickshaw to the train station so that I could stow my luggage and get my follow-on ticket for that night. Then I wanted to go to Gandhi’s ashram north of town. I started bargaining with the first rickshaw driver who was overcharging me when a young guy stepped in and asked if I needed help. The rickshaw driver got in his face and started yelling. I was impressed by the young man’s peaceful nature, as he calmly dealt with the driver.  After the altercation he warned me off that particular driver. I had seen enough to concur, thanked the young man and went onward. The second driver told me that he suddenly remembered the ashram was closed that day after I had got him down to a realistic price. Next? So rickshaw wallah #3 got my business, even though he had a high fare as well. I was tired of fighting at that point, and besides, it was still only about $2 total. Pick your battles, as they say.

The ashram, Sabarmati, is named after the river where it lies adjacent to. It’s a peaceful place where he lived for twelve years, and served as the base for his famous salt march. Now it serves as a tribute to all the work that Mahatma Ghandi accomplished. He’s been someone I’ve really respected, and I was happy to be able to visit a place where he accomplished so much.

Life size statue of Gandhi-ji

Other than the ashram, there wasn’t really anything in Ahmedabad that was on my “must see” list. So it was back to the train station, hiring another rickshaw. This time, I paid more attention to what he was doing, and developed a bit of respect for the rickshaw wallahs. These guys ferry their passengers around dodging cows, people, bikes, cars, and buses. There are no lanes, no signals or stop signs. The only safety mechanism is honking, which serves as echolocation around other vehicles. It does work to a large degree, but it’s really amazing that more accidents don’t happen. Add the noise and the exhaust fumes, and imagine dealing with it all day. That’s their life. When I think about that plus the skill they display, it makes it easier to pay them closer to what they ask for, even if it is probably 2-3 times the local rate.

The next morning I arrived in Mumbai. While I was eating breakfast, I was joined by two Chinese tourists, a woman and her boss. They had the day off from their duties, and we joined forces to go to Chowpatty beach. I had heard much about it, and wanted to see it and try the famous Bhel Puri that is made there. The beach was smaller than I imagined, but the Bhel Puri (a snack of sorts with fried crackers and noodles, tomato, peppers, onions, potatoes, chickpeas and sauces) was great. Worth the stop in Mumbai just for that. Afterwards we went on a taxi tour of the town, stopping at another residence of Ghandi that I hadn’t heard about, a Jain temple, a nearby park, and the dhobi ghat. For those that don’t know, there are men in Mumbai who wash clothes and linens at the edge of the river for their living. Hospital, school, and hotel linens are all washed here. The amount done with minimal machine assistance is staggering. 

The bay of Bombay
Bhel Puri. Yummmm.
Jain temple
At Gandhi’s house in Mumbai
Dhobi ghat

Mumbai also has a large slum area made famous in the movie “Slumdog Millionaire”. I considered going, but had mixed feelings about intentionally seeking out such a place. It seemed like an act of exploitation to go see it. I am very aware of the poverty here. Even without going to a slum, the poverty is in your face. In the end, I decided the slum residents didn’t need to have me gawping at them.

And that concludes the whirlwind tour of Ahmedabad and Mumbai. Hope you enjoyed it!

Lakeside loveliness 

I took a “sleeper” bus from Jaisalmer to Udaipur, as there was no direct train. I won’t go into sniveling details, but let’s just say that the term sleeper for a bus is even more optimistic than the train.

Despite lack of sleep, I arrived in Udaipur with some energy to explore the city. Udaipur is spread around Lake Picchola, which is about 12 sq. km.. The main tourist spot is the city palace complex, which is Rajasthan’s largest palace. Like many of these grand structures, it was started by one ruler and built upon by subsequent ones. This palace was initiated by Maharana Udai Singh II in 1599.

The museum inside displayed some of the interior architecture, along with articles used by the maharanas. My favorite parts were the stained glass windows, but it was all impressive.

Outside of the city palace, there are peaceful sites by the lake to relax, and I explored these in the afternoon.

Another popular building on the lakeshore is the Bagore ki Haveli, which has a museum with the largest turban, among other things, and at night hosts a Rajasthan culture show. I would highly recommend both for a sampling of local culture.

My last tourist visit was to Sajjan Garh, or the monsoon palace. It’s not very old, as it was built in the late 19th century by Maharana Sajjan Singh. Apart from some scaffolding in various parts, it looks like it’s been largely neglected since then. But it’s main draw is the surrounding scenery vs the architecture. It’s a few miles from town on the top of a hill, and offers endless gorgeous views from the surrounding area. It’s also a favorite place to watch the sun set, with good reason.

Apart from these main attractions, I’ve been wandering by shops, puzzling vendors by being the rare tourist that isn’t interested in buying things, and finding quiet places by the lake not mentioned in Lonely Planet. Overall, it’s been a peaceful visit.


I started out the morning with a trip to Jaisalmer Palace Fort; another outstanding example of Rajput architecture. 

“Hanging out” in the Palace. Yes, they are what you think they are. I walked quickly through this section, as there was no alternative.

I started out early in the morning to beat the heat and the shop vendors, but caught them on the return. As I said “Not shopping today” to one vendor, the next one says “Shopping is very good for your health, madam”. I had to drop the no-nonsense facade and just laugh, replying that I preferred yoga. That got a smile, and a reprieve.

At three in the afternoon, I joined a dozen people from Belgium, and a last minute add on from Portugal. After loading on sunscreen, we piled into jeeps and drove into the Thar (pronounced “tar”, but with a flat-tongued emphasis on the t) Desert. We first visited a deserted village. 250 years ago, the inhabitants were of a high priestly caste who offered things to the gods for the common people. One day the Maharaja came to the village, saw a young woman and asked for permission to marry her. The group refused because they were higher caste. The maharaja gave them an ultimatum: either allow me to marry this woman, or I will kill your village. He allowed them a three day decision operiod, during which they dispersed to other towns, leaving the village empty. No one moved into them due to fear of being haunted.

Next we met our camels and drivers and began riding. These were one-humped Dromedary camels specific to Rajasthan. Cushions were thankfully present, although after a while it still felt like we were sitting on bags of rocks. Camels are tall, with long gangly legs. When they get up from lying down, your body is lurched forward. If you’re not leaning back and hanging on, you will be pitched forward onto the ground (no, I wasn’t, and neither did anyone else).

If you’re not the leader of the pack, the view is pretty much the same
Picas, one of our camel drivers

We rode out to the dunes in about ninety minutes, where the drivers set up camp and and cooked dinner. The dunes themselves are not Sahara sized, but are still impressive, and fun to play around in. After we ate a dinner of lentils, vegetables, rice and chapati, one of the drivers shared his life story after being asked, and then we were audience to a Marwari concert, as we fell asleep under the stars. While it was delightfully cool when we went to bed, by early morning I was quite thankful for the blanket that had been provided. I woke early to see the sunrise, and we all rode back to the jeep after breakfast. It was a great experience, and the staff were wonderful.

Next stop is Udaipur, which will probably be my last stop in Rajasthan. I can’t see everything, but feel like I’ve already seen a good sampling of the state during this trip. 

Gloriously Golden

I arrived in Jaisalmer about noontime, and settled into my room at the hotel after they picked me up from the train station. I happily splurged a few hundred rupees more for AC, as temps appeared to be in the low 90’s. I took some time in the afternoon to walk around looking at the buildings. Many of the houses, called havelis, have central courtyards with the rooms facing inwards to allow for light and airflow. As the wind goes through the courtyard, it cools in the summer yet stays warm in the winter. Hava is the Hindi word for wind, hence haveli.

From inside the haveli
Such intricate design

I was impressed with the cleanliness of the streets that I hadn’t seen in a while. Apart from the odd cow patty, not a whole lot of garbage laying about. Such a beautiful city, it’s pleasing to miss the general rubbish display of other towns.

The haveli of “The men who stare at goats”, or perhaps “The goats who stare at men”

The next morning I planned to check out the fort…until I got out of bed and sped to the bathroom. My gut revised the day’s plans to alternatively staying flat on my bed and calling my attention to the interior of the bathroom (which is, btw, lovely with painted tiles). 

I’ve spent more time in much worse bathrooms!

The fever, chills, body aches, and an overwhelming urge to be horizontal came afterwards. I honestly felt like death was watching. After the fever rose to the point which I could feel my brains simmering, I resigned myself to the need for some pharmaceutical intervention, and sent the hotel guy with a list of medication to get. He returned shortly with medication that would have been at least $30 in the states. Here? About $1 (OK, I’ll skip the rant on how big pharma overcharges for their medications in the US). Eight hours later, the fever went down, and I managed to eat a few biscuits and take some water. By this morning, I felt like a new woman, and managed a late breakfast, lunch, and a wander in the afternoon spent looking at various havelis. And was rewarded by a golden view of the city.

I still took it easy because tomorrow is the big day: an overnight camel safari in the desert. And that will be my next post. Stay tuned and be well!

A Case of the Blues

Jodhpur is classically known as the blue city. Originally, blue was a distinguishing color of only Brahmin houses. Later, everyone else got into the act, and now a majority of houses in the city are painted varying shades of blue. IMHO, much prettier than pink, but to each their own. The blue color is also claimed to repel insects, but I have my doubts on that.

The first day there I headed to Mehrangarh fort. Nothing “meh” about it; like Amber fort it was everything I could have asked for in Rajput architecture. Construction of this massive fort was started in 1459 by Rao Jodha, and continued with successive rulers. The fort encloses gardens, massive gates, meeting halls, and private chambers. There’s a museum of elephant seats, palanquins, paintings and other items used and admired throughout the ages. I walked around for a few hours, and then fueled by a makhania lassi and pyaz kachori, wandered further to the Rao Jodha desert rock park.

In case you’re wondering, a lassi is a drink made from yogurt, combined with either spices, fruit, or honey. A makhania lassi is quite thick, sweetened, and made with saffron. The best ones in possibly all of India are served at Shri Mishrilal Hotel. They’re so thick they’re eaten with a spoon instead of sipped. Kachori are fried bread with various fillings. The pyaz kachori seemed to have potato and onion inside. Probably not very healthy, but tasty nonetheless.

Rao Jodha rock park is 73 hectares large, and located at the base of the fort, providing some great views and photos. It was also a beautiful retreat from the crowds. At first I wondered why there seemed to be no one else there, but it soon became apparent as the temperatures rose. Most people go there in the morning, but I was there from 12-2. But there was a breeze, and I had water, so it didn’t get bad until towards the end. Maybe I’m getting used to the heat here. Maybe.

The next day I set out with a short list of errands: get train ticket to Jaisalmer, get batteries for water purifier, get some medicine and a cheap prepaid cell phone. I of course ended up walking way past the train station, and thankfully went with a rickshaw after I felt like I should have been there (boy was I off course!). For some inexplicable reason, the rail  booking office is 300 meters away from the actual station. Don’t ask me why. But knowing this, I made my way there after being dropped off at the station itself. I patiently waited in queue and handed in my filled request form. 

There’s a waiting list. 

Even for tourists?

Tourist ticket ok. You have photocopy of passport? No? We don’t make copies here. Come back with a copy. Next in line please.

So I wandered towards the post office next door, when a man helped me find a nearby shop to get a copy. Returning to the ticket office triumphantly with ticket in hand, I got my ticket. Ha. 

The same guy also “helped” me get a cell phone, but pressured me into getting one withoutq a receipt (yeah, I know, you see where this is going, dont you?). He then “helped” me get a SIM card, but they wanted a photo for it. I didn’t have one, other than the picture on my passport. Feeling conned and frustrated at this point, I left, and headed to the main market for batteries and a pharmacy, but was unable to find either. No one had the batteries, and a pharmacy seemed nowhere to be found. I retreated back to the guest house and sulked through the afternoon, then thanks to google, at least found the pharmacy later that day (it helped that it was near the lassi shop).

Main market madness

The next day I went on a village tour, seeing a pottery maker, a block print maker, a loom weaver and Bishnoi tribal members. The Bishnoi, named for the 29 precepts they keep, are the original tree huggers. In 1730, in their efforts to protect local khejri trees, over 370 members hugged the trees to save them, and were beheaded in their efforts.

Block print fabrics
Woven dhurries
Showing how they filter opium
Going Rajasthani style

So in the grand scheme of things, the fact that when I returned to the phone store after the tour and they wouldn’t take the phone back seems relatively minor in comparison to being beheaded. And yes, rather foreseeable. A $20 lesson to follow my instincts. It could have been much worse. Anyone want to buy a phone?

Minor as they are in the grand scheme, incidences like this make me want to just stay in my room and not go out, yet there is so much goodness out there that I miss by hiding. So the mind goes back and forth. I hide for a while, and then I give India another go. And I usually get rewarded for doing so.

0515, Jodhpur train station 

I step over a sea of bodies sleeping on the station floor and make my way to platform three over the stairs. The smell of machinery and human waste assaults my nostrils. More people are sitting, sleeping, or squatting on the ground, waiting for the train that’s thirty minutes late. Vendors walk up and down the platform with paper cups and teapots, chanting their popular mantra; “Chai, chai, garam chai, chai-chai-chai”.

This time I find a sign which shows where my train car will be on the platform. I have not always been so lucky, and have ended up race-walking/jogging from one end of the platform to another. India has very long trains.

The train arrives and I climb the steep steps aboard, already happy that I bought a ticket in the air conditioned section. I’m wearing my suitcase on my back, my backpack on the front, and a yoga mat bag slung over my shoulder. I look like a deformed turtle. I step aside to let some departing Sikh gentlemen go by, and they help me to find my seat without even being asked before they go. The goodness in India strikes again.

I watch the landscape roll by and am reminded of Arizona. The English planted a variety of Mexican trees here similar to mesquite, to provide a fast growing tree as wood supply. As foreign species often do, the trees adopted to their new environment a little too well, and are now an invasive species, choking out the native plants. The green of the mesquite-like trees and grass complement the sandstone rocks among the occasional hills, then the grass and the trees became more sparse. Thus was the moving picture I watched on my way to Jaisalmer, which will be my next post.